Wednesday, November 23, 2005

School's founder applauded; Largest Unrestricted K-12 Teaching Award Created by Kinders, KIPP

1) Kudos to Scott Shirey, head of KIPP Delta College Prep in Arkansas!
Shirey was the surprised recipient of a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award given annually to those who further excellence in education.
2) Kudos also to the Kinders for creating this award.
Houston philanthropists Rich and Nancy Kinder announced in September they have partnered with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) to create the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. The $100,000 unrestricted award is the largest ever to honor a teacher in the United States.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR)

“School's founder applauded”

By Cynthia Howell

November 5, 2005

Scott Shirey, the founding director of the acclaimed Knowledge Is Power Program: Delta College Preparatory Charter School in downtown Helena, does not take kindly to interruptions to the instructional time for the school's 230 pupils in grades five through eight.

On Friday, such an interruption caused him to turn red in the face and even blink back a tear or two, a staff member said, but it wasn't because of frustration or anger. Instead, Shirey was the surprised recipient of a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award given annually to those who further excellence in education.

"It's pretty humbling," Shirey said after the student assembly that was attended by Arkansas Commissioner of Education Ken James and first lady Janet Huckabee. "I think it will make me want to work harder. There's a lot of work still to be done." James called the award the Oscar of the teaching profession.

"The Milken National Educator Awards have become the largest national teacher recognition program in the United States," James said.

Shirey, the f irst charter school educator in Arkansas to receive the award, is one of about 100 teachers and school administrators in 48 states, and one of two in Arkansas, to be honored this year by the California-based Milken foundation. In all, 59 Arkansas educators have won awards totaling $1.47 million since 1991.

Lowell Milken created the awards program in 1985 to recognize the contributions that educators make to the nation's well-being. Recipients, who can't be nominated or apply for the honor, are announced in the fall and then given the awards in the spring at an Academy Awards-type gala in Los Angeles. Departments of education appoint an independent committee to recommend recipients who must work in grades kindergarten through 12. While private school teachers are eligible, the preponderance of the awards have gone to public school educators, a foundation spokesman said Friday.

The Milken awards carry no restrictions on how they can be spent.

Shirey said Friday that the money he receives will be reinvested in the school that serves pupils who are largely from low-income families in the Arkansas Delta.

"I have some promises to fulfill," he said. "I promised the kids a gym, a high school and some trips. It will go right back to the students." Shirey was 25 in 2002 when he completed training to start the Arkansas school through what was then the fledgling national Knowledge Is Power Program charter school system.

A charter school is a taxpayer-funded school that is exempted from some of the laws and rules that dictate the operation of traditional schools. As a result the schools can be experimental in their design. The Knowledge Is Power system with its emphasis on longer school days and strong discipline, started with a single school in Houston and has grown to 47 schools in low-income communities in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Not only did Shirey, now 29, shepherd a charter school agreement with the Arkansas Board of Education, oversee the renovation of the Helena train depot into classrooms and select staff for the new school, he personally knocked on doors in the Helena area to recruit fifth-graders and then he taught them social studies while also conducting administrative duties.

Knowledge Is Power Program: Delta College Preparatory, which started with about 60 fifth-graders, has now expanded through the eighth grade. A ninth grade is planned for 2006. A capital campaign is starting to finance a separate high school building.

The students attend classes from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. during the week and on two Saturdays a month and for a month in the summer. They adhere to a strict code of discipline, but they also are given 24-houra day phone access to their teachers and an annual outof-state field trip to places as far away as Washington, D.C., and Utah. The students wear uniform shirts that say "Work Hard," "Be Nice" and "There are no shortcuts." Average scores on standardized tests have improved as the Delta College Preparatory students moved through the grades at the school. Last year's seventh-graders scored at or above the state and national averages on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and above the state averages on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam. That same class had scored at only the 18th percentile on the Stanford Achievement Test as fifth-graders in 2002-03, meaning that 82 percent of their peers nationwide scored better on the test.

Arkansas lawmakers endorsed the Knowledge Is Power initiative earlier this year when they capped the number of charter schools in the state at 24 and said there can be only one campus per charter unless a proposed school is sponsored by the Knowledge Is Power Program. If that is the case, the applicant for a charter can petition for additional licenses to establish charter schools throughout the state.

The Delta College Preparatory charter school's parent organization applauded Shirey's Milken award.

"We at KIPP are thrilled for Scott, but not surprised," said Steve Mancini, a spokesman for the program's national organization. "This award is a tribute to the success Scott and his team of KIPP teachers have had in changing the trajectory of kids' lives in Helena." Shirey, a Massachusetts native, earned a bachelor's degree in history from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He taught middle school in Baton Rouge as part of the national Teach for America program before going through training to start the charter school.

On Friday, Shirey said he wanted to deflect the attention from himself to his students.

"I just want everything to be focused on the kids," he said. "A lot of our initial students have been through a lot with other kids trying to pull them back to the regular schools and community members saying all the hard work is not worth it. We've got another four years before we get our first kids into college. We are going to need lots of support for the students and to keep this ball rolling. We're still young." Earlier this week, Amanda Linn, a visual arts teacher at Little Rock's Parkview Magnet High School, also was presented the Milken National Educator Award.


School Reform News

Largest Unrestricted K-12 Teaching Award Created by Kinders, KIPP

By Kate McGreevy

November 1, 2005


Houston philanthropists Rich and Nancy Kinder announced in September they have partnered with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) to create the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. The $100,000 unrestricted award is the largest ever to honor a teacher in the United States.


"Rich and Nancy Kinder's philanthropy and vision made this possible," said Steve Mancini, KIPP's director of public affairs. "Rich's mother, Edna, was a beloved teacher devoted to the profession. This award honors her commitment."

Honoring Demonstrated Results

The Kinder Award will be made in the summer of 2006, presented to a teacher who has demonstrated strong results with students--at least 50 percent of whom must qualify for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program. Both public and private school teachers are eligible. The deadline for nominations is December 31.

Mancini emphasized nominees must have a proven track record in the classroom and "measurable results [in] improving student achievement."


KIPP is nationally regarded for its academic successes with previously underserved students. Its network of 45 public schools serves a population that is 90 percent minority, with roughly 75 percent qualifying for the free- and reduced-price lunch program.


KIPP spokeswoman Debbie Fine said the organization's partnership with the Kinders is not new, noting the couple has commended more than 30 KIPP teachers with $10,000 awards over the past four years.


"As an administrative partner in this award process, no KIPP teacher will be eligible this year," Fine clarified. "We believe that our role is indicative of our commitment to the larger debate surrounding teachers and the teaching profession."

Stoking Debate Over Salaries

Mancini said the award was created not simply to reward one teacher but also to bring attention to the connection between talented teachers, academic gains for students, and the value of teacher compensation.


"Teachers are the heart and soul of education in America," Mancini said. "We hope to send a message: If successful businessmen, lawyers, and doctors earn six-figure salaries, so should exemplary teachers. To close the achievement gap, we need great teachers."


Mancini explained KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg has long hoped an award like this might help stimulate respect for the teaching profession. Ultimately, Mancini said, both the Kinders and KIPP envision a teaching profession where six-figure salaries are the norm, rather than the exception.

Expecting Thousands of Nominations

Hundreds of nominations already have been submitted, Mancini said, and he believes thousands more will come in before the deadline.


After that, a screening committee will select 20 finalists to be reviewed by a panel that includes the Kinders, Feinberg, two former KIPP teachers, and a handful of other education experts. The panel will then choose the award recipient.

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